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Chilling effect: How to prevent hypothermia

Hypothermia is a condition defined as the profound cooling of the body core temperature to less than 96 degrees Fahrenheit. As our body temperature drops, the cooling effect has a significant impact on our senses. People with hypothermia become very disoriented; others develop hallucinations.

These conditions can produce atypical behavior, and often exacerbate the problem by interfering with a person's judgment and ability to take care of themselves.

As the body temperature continues to drop, our heart rate becomes irregular, and without medical intervention, hypothermia ultimately results in death. Of course, the cooling effects take time, and our brain tries to slow the cooling effects with involuntary muscle contractions that manufacture heat. During this time, preventative measures to keep warm may just save your life.

Many people think that to get hypothermia, one needs to be exposed to extremely frigid temperatures. This is not true. The condition results from what I call the trifecta of hypothermia: Cool temperatures, wetness and wind.

It could be a sunny day, but if you get exposed to all these conditions at the same time for a long time, you might just get hypothermia.

So with the cold, wet, windy weather taking hold in much of the country, what precautions can we take? Here are a few tips:

  • Dress properly for the weather: wear a hat, coat, gloves, and a face mask for extreme cold
  • Keep dry
  • Limit your time outdoors in very frigid temperatures
  • Avoid alcohol

When hiking, camping, skiing or otherwise spending time outdoors in cold temperatures, always have a partner with you, and always carry a cell phone, walkie-talkie, or some other means that will enable you to call or signal for help.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as FOX News Channel's (FNC) Senior Managing Editor for Health News. Prior to this position, Alvarez was a FNC medical contributor.
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